My husband has been bugging me for a few weeks to write about a new training technique called blood starving, so here it is! With this technique, you raise the limb of the muscle being worked above the line of your heart to restrict blood flow to that muscle. The weight you will lift is much less than normal – anything between just 20 and 50 per cent of your 1RM – but it will supposedly give you greater benefits than performing the same exercise with a heavier weight.
Using something like bicep curls as an example, you would use perform the curls with your arms elevated (e.g. using a high cable). Once you finish the set, you keep your arms elevated while you rest. You would perform five sets of 10-15 repetitions, with 30 seconds rest in between.
Other exercises which are blood-starving approved include the incline leg press for legs and calves, overhead tricep extension and shoulder press. You can also just perform any regular exercise, and then elevate your limbs during the rest period. That way the blood will not be able to clear the lactic acid and other waste products from the muscles.
When you bring your arms or legs back down to normal height, you will feel a (quite painful) rush of blood to your muscles. The best real-life examples I can think of are lowering your arms after shaving your face or tying up your hair (gotta keep it gender-friendly!).
So why would you want to do this?
Fast twitch muscle fibres have the greatest potential for muscle growth, however, it is physically and mentally taxing to constantly work at the high intensity required to engage these fibres. When the dominant slow twitch cells are starved of oxygen because of reduced blood flow, the high twitch fibres are forced into recruitment. Therefore, regardless of the intensity with which you are lifting, you should be able to engage your fast twitch muscle fibres by reducing the blood flow.
The theory is similar to that of occlusive training, where blood flow is restricted by external means (such as using a cuff or a tightly wound wrap, rather than raising your arms/legs). This approach is based on scientific evidence that limiting blood flow to the muscles during low intensity exercise is the equivalent to – and perhaps even more beneficial than – performing the exercise at a moderate intensity.
Studies have shown that protein synthesis is increased by as much as 50 per cent and growth hormone levels are also increased by reducing blood flow, which consequently increases lean muscle mass. Interestingly, the effects are mostly seen only when the occlusion remains in place throughout the rest periods as well – which is why blood starving requires constantly elevated limbs.
The technique was created by Hany Rambod, who also came up with FST-7 training – which I am a big fan of. Regardless of whether the science behind FST-7 is legitimate, I’ve seen enough people benefit from it to feel confident that it does help with muscle growth.
I am not sold on blood starving. It all sounds a little far-fetched and eerily similar to asphyxiation. I worry about the long-term effects of regularly cutting off your blood supply, and possible permanent tissue damage that could result from lack of nutrients. It also sounds like it could contradict typical broscience – surely limiting blood flow would reduce that ever-important muscle pump?
Not to mention you will look like a monkey doing this in the middle of a packed gym. I chuckle when I think of guys walking around with their arms in the air, or lying on a bench with their legs up.
As this is something I haven’t tried, I cannot recommend it – so if you try it, it’s at your own risk. BUT I am curious – what do you think about the idea of blood starving?